March 12, 2024

Malnutrition: High cost of foods threatens Nigerians’ diets

Food maket, Malnutrition: High cost of foods threatens Nigerians’ diets

File image for illustration.

•Nutritionist warns of imminent kwashiorkor, infections among children

By Chioma Obinna

THE 2023 Global Report on Food Crises, GRFC, establishes that the number of people experiencing acute food insecurity and requiring urgent food and livelihood assistance is on the rise.

This development is indeed a reality in Nigeria as the cost of living across the 36 States and the Federal Capital Territory, FCT, Abuja, has thrown millions of Nigerians into acute hunger. Daily, Nigerians struggle to put food on the table amidst insecurity, malnutrition, infections and other social problems plaguing their environment.

The 2022 GRFC Report listed Nigeria among the 10 countries with the highest number of people in crises, today, evidence abounds as many Nigerians struggle to keep a healthy diet. Findings by Good Health Weekly revealed that many families no longer eat for the sake of getting all the required nutrients but to ensure there is something in the stomach for a little energy.

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In most communities, the situation is so bad that parents no longer ask their children if they are satisfied with the food, but if they have eaten. Last Saturday, at about 6:30 am, the popular Oyigbo market was already a beehive of activities. A first-time visitor would marvel at the way the market women engaged the shoppers and tried to convince them to accept the new prices of goods.

‘How did we get here,’ housewife lament in market

Many of the women who are regulars, confessed that they were becoming tired of the ever-changing prices of foodstuffs each day. It touched hearts when one of the women, unknowingly spoke aloud, “How did we get here? I arrived at this market at 5:30 am but I have not bought a single thing,” she said amidst the confusion.

She wasn’t alone. Hundreds of women gathered in groups discussing their woes and rubbing minds on the different ways they have adopted to beat the current economic situation in the country.

“No one is eating to meet any nutritional needs, all we are after is getting something that will fill our children’s stomach,” Juliana, a mother of 5 and a foodstuff seller at the popular Oyigbo market told Good Health Weekly.

According to Juliana, prices of most of the food items have skyrocketed and are now out of the reach of common Nigerians.

“I cannot remember the last time I cooked with meat for my children. All we concentrate on are those things that can at least give strength to the children. Things like beans and garri that used to be the olive branch for poor Nigerians have become out of the reach of common people like us. That is how bad things are,” she stated.

‘A paint of egusi’

“Early last year, a paint of egusi was N1,500, today, it goes for N6,500. A paint of beans is now N6,000; a Derica cup of rice is N1,500 depending on the area of purchase and the quality. Garri, a paint bucket is now N2,600; a kilo of frozen chicken is N5,000 as opposed to N1,600 it was sold last year, and a paint of crayfish now goes for N6,000.

“These are common foods consumed by poor Nigerians who cannot afford the expensive dishes. We are not talking about oyibo foods or beverages like milk etc. These are way out of my reach,” she added.

For Adamu, a smoked fish seller at the market, the dollar exchange is not the only problem. The attacks against farmers in the north and other parts of the country where most of the foods are produced, are major cause sof the problem. Adamu said traders are not to be blamed, adding that the attacks created a lot of scarcity of products and people will sell according to how they bought them.

“Government should take action to stop attacks. If not, food prices will continue to rise, and people will starve,” Adamu stated.

The Nigerian Security Tracker, Save the Children, notes that armed groups killed more than 128 farmers and kidnapped 37 others across Nigeria between January and June 2023. In June, 19 farmers were killed by non-state armed groups in Nigeria’s northern Borno State alone.

In the views of the Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Nigeria, Mr. Matthias Schmale in a report: “The food security and nutrition situation across Nigeria is deeply concerning. I have visited nutrition stabilisation centres filled with children who are fighting to stay alive. We must act now to ensure they and others get the lifesaving support they need.”

Also, the United Nations Children’s Fund, UNICEF, has warned that children are the most vulnerable to food insecurity.

Nutritionist reacts

Speaking to Good Health Weekly, a Researcher and Clinical Nutritionist, Dr. Obinna Ogbonna said there is so much hunger in the land.

Ogbonna who is also the immediate past President, the Nigerian Union of Allied Health Professionals, NUAHP, said the nutritional implications of the current situation are grave, especially for children and pregnant mothers.

“The implication is if there’s inadequate nutrient intake, there will be lowered immunity and predisposition to infections and diseases.

“Minor infections that would have been waded away if there was adequate nutrition /food will weaken the individual due to low immunity, hence, serious disease condition.”

He explained that even if sick persons can afford drugs to treat themselves, without adequate nutrition, the drugs would not be efficient in treating the sickness as the nutrient to carry the active ingredient of the drug to the site of action is either insufficient or not available.

He said Nigerians should expect diseases like kwashiorkor, marasmus and marasmic kwashiorkor to be on the increase among children.

“Secondly, there will be an increase in the number of small for age neonates, and low birth weight babies born during this hunger-laden period. The nutrition of the mother before, during and after pregnancy has a direct effect on the baby’s weight. With lifelong mental, physical, growth and developmental impairment.

“We should expect a rise in maternal morbidity and mortality due to undernutrition and infections.”

He said to resolve the food crisis, the only alternative was for the govt to open up the border and import or flood the country with essential food items like grains, cereals etc which are more of Nigeria’s staple foods.

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